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Saturday, November 10, 2012
Updated: November 12, 6:29 PM ET
Higher calling for Air Force pilot

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

On Friday, Captain Andy Aduddell, a 37-year-old Air Force F-16 fighter pilot, played in the pro-am at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic with his old friend, Chad Campbell. The two West Texans knew each other from their days on the mini tours, but they had lost touch over the years as their lives went in starkly different directions.

Campbell is a four-time PGA Tour winner with more than $21 million in career earnings. And in January, Aduddell, who is an instructor in the 56th Training Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz., will celebrate his 10th year in the Air Force.

When Campbell was in the playoff at the 2009 Masters with Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry, Aduddell was cheering him on with friends in the wee hours of the morning from his barracks at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.

I don't hit the ball as well as I used to, but I had the best sports psychologists you could ever hire with fighter pilot training. If I had been the mental player then that I am now, I would have won a lot of mini tour events.

-- U.S. Air Force captain Andy Aduddell

In August, Aduddell won Arizona's amateur and mid-amateur titles. Last month, he took the Armed Forces Championship with a tournament-record 20-under-par total at the Naval Air Station course in Jacksonville, Fla.

But now he was in the setting where he once dreamed he would make his living when he was a standout college player, first with TCU and later with the University of Texas. (At TCU, Aduddell was a suitemate for two years with another multiple tour winner, J.J. Henry.)

As grateful as Aduddell was for the pro-am invitation for servicemen, the chance to play with some of his old friends was a tough reminder of the life that could have been his own had Sept. 11, 2001, not changed his heart about his future.

It's really difficult seeing buddies like J.J. Henry and Chad Campbell that you used to beat out here making it and doing really well, Aduddell said. Don't get me wrong, you're extremely happy for those guys. But you always wonder what if.

But then I'll go and do a low level through the Grand Canyon and things feel better and I say to myself, 'I bet these guys wish they were doing this.'"

Like so many men and women after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Aduddell felt a calling to serve his country. He was preparing to play in a Tight Lies Tour event in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, when three separate terrorist-guided planes struck targets in New York City and Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania before it could reach its intended target.

I was floored like everybody, he said. You go from a point where you think you're going to break through and win a tournament to now this happening and it changes your priorities.

But after two hard years playing the Tight Lies and the Hooters tours, he might have still decided to continue his pursuit to make the PGA Tour.

I had sponsorship money for the following year, but at that point, I was pretty disappointed and decided that I didn't want to continue doing the mini-tour thing, Aduddell said. I didn't feel like that was any way to live life and I wasn't having any fun.

A few weeks after the attacks, Aduddell met with an Air Force recruiter to discuss his desire to be a fighter pilot. He would play in his last professional event in January 2002. After finishing officer training school in the spring of 2003, he spent a year in flight school at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Okla.

Once he became a certified F-16 fighter pilot, he was given the nickname Wedge due partly to his golf background but also because a wedge is a simple tool, and he's a self-described simple guy.

Since then, he's had deployments all over the world and started a family. His title is major-select, which means he has been promoted to the rank of major, but it's not yet official under the military bureaucracy. One of Aduddell's favorite missions is forward air control, a duty in which the pilot communicates with ground troops to ensure airstrikes hit the correct targets, and not friendly forces.

For Aduddell, who got his amateur status back in 2005, a return to golf is an alluring choice, particularly after winning the Arizona Amateur after a layoff of more than decade from competition. In Arizona's top amateur event, Aduddell beat Washington State sophomore Michael Anderson 1-up in the finals after the college golfer was penalized for marking Aduddell's ball on the 18th hole on the North Course of the Gallery Golf Club in Marana, Ariz., a rule only applicable to match play.

As bizarre an ending as that victory was for Aduddell, nothing would match his rebirth as a pro golfer after a stressful turn as a fighter pilot, where even the most decorated of fliers are just one flight away from losing their jobs.

Golf is like a bad girlfriend coming back, Aduddell said. We had some rough times together. I know what it takes. I know the sacrifice. I have a wife that doesn't know that side of life. She never had to live with me through all that.

Job permitting, Aduddell says he might try a few Monday qualifiers next year on the PGA Tour and attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open. More than anything, he would love to play in a regular tour event. And he will continue to compete in Arizona amateur events, where he was recently selected as the 2012 Player of the Year.

In the Disney Pro-Am, Aduddell shot 10-under par for two days, using the forward tees. That performance wasn't proof for him that he could consistently compete with his old buddies, but he knows he's a more complete golfer now than he was when he played full-time.

I don't hit the ball as well as I used to, but I had the best sports psychologists you could ever hire with fighter pilot training, he said. If I had been the mental player then that I am now, I would have won a lot of mini-tour events.

The pro-am provided Aduddell a nice spark to his old ambitions of being a world-class golfer, but he knows that being a fighter pilot is a great job, too. Because on a regular basis, like a bird, he can look out over the world at high speeds and see it from a perspective that very few have.